Sarah Palin and the GOP had great fun this week belittling Barack Obama's background as a community organizer. But in doing so, they were not just putting down one person.
They were attacking the (small "d") democratic traditions of the United States, itself.
Let us not forget: the first of America's freedoms is the freedom to speak out for change. That is the rock upon which all of our other freedoms are built. And across the country, in roles paid and unpaid, America's community organizers are the people who help us exercise that freedom every day. They are the invisible champions of America's grassroots democracy.
For little or no pay, they work with neighbors -- or with people in need -- to address tough problems. They are often people who could make a great deal of money in other professions. But many have chosen to dedicate themselves to causes greater than themselves -- and to communities poorer than their own.
Their work epitomizes what it means to put community -- and, yes, country -- first.
Their dedication and sacrifice is nothing new; the idea of bottom-up, democratic action is as old as the republic itself. In fact, constant engagement and debate at the neighborhood, community and grassroots level is what keeps the nation's democracy vital and alive.
My question is this: how can any candidate or party that hopes to lead America take such joy in putting down American institutions -- like grassroots democracy and its hard-working stewards?
Rosa Parks was a community organizer. The PTA moms (with whom Sarah Palin loves to associate herself) are community organizers. Today, organizers are powering our democracy -- registering millions of young people, disadvantaged people and senior citizens to vote for the first time. They do the invaluable and thankless labor of making democracy work.
When factories are shut down and families find they have nowhere else to turn, community organizers step in and step up. They help frightened and frustrated people find shared solutions to wrenching problems.
They help our national leaders correct major policy mistakes. Not only were community organizers the first people in this country to stand up against the war in Iraq. They were also the first to talk about how U.S. soldiers in harm's way were not given enough protective gear.
They come from red states and blue states. Community organizers, including groups led by evangelical Rick Warren, helped to lead the rebuilding of New Orleans following Katrina. Many of those religiously motivated organizers have stayed there after the media, the government big shots and practically everyone else has left.
But apparently, it is not enough that they work under incredibly difficult circumstances for little pay and no recognition. Now they have to listen to broadcast put-down's from the party of Bush, McCain and Palin.
That's a shame -- and a disgrace. Those who make democracy work every day should be respected, along with America's other homeland heroes. Anyone who aspires to lead this country should be saluting them -- not sneering at them.